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I See ISS, ISS Sees You

April 19, 2011
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Every 91 minutes, the International Space Station orbits the earth, some 190 miles above our heads.

You can see it pass over quite often, and (fog permitting) tonight is one of those nights.  From about 8:10 to 8:14, the ISS will pass over California, and from San Francisco’s perspective it will be quite high in the sky — 61 degrees up, to the southwest / south. (It will be even higher in the sky in the south bay, and directly overhead in Monterey.)

But what does the ISS see?  Quite a bit. A number its residents are on Twitter and are taking photos. Last year, @astro_soichi, a Japanese astronaut, took this rather glorious photo of us:

Right now, @astro_paolo, an Italian astronaut, is taking some epic pictures as well. The ones of the squished moon (distorted by the earth’s atmosphere) are pretty awesome.

Satellites is a rather awesome iPhone app ($1) that shows you where the ISS is and will be. You can also ‘play’ the orbits forwards and backwards in time. Below we see tonight’s pass. The orange circle is the visible horizon of the ISS.  The orange line indicates the visibility of the ISS from the ground after sunset and before sunrise. (If you are iPhoneless, or want to see other satellites, n2yo.com is a pretty good resource with a nice Google map view).

(When over San Francisco, astronauts and cosmonauts can see from Vancouver Island to Baja California.)

A closeup view of the California pass:

Even better, NASA is currently streaming live video from the ISS, and more often than not the camera is pointed down at us. Here’s a shot over Paupa New Guinea at their sunrise a few hours ago:

(Beware that the stream is an .asx / mms and doesn’t work very well in Safari — use Firefox or VLC if you have trouble.)

Even if it’s dark, you may see city lights. And since the ISS travels 4 miles a minute it will come out of shadow in no time. (In the Satellites app, you can maintain perspective on the ISS and fast forward through time — it’s pretty trippy.) If you just see a static shot of the horizon, the ISS is likely out of satellite/ground coverage over the middle of the ocean.

Anyway, just after 8, we can see how the ISS sees us (or at least Monterey/Santa Cruz — I am not quite sure of the field of view yet).  Whether we see *it* is up to our friend the fog. (And of course, the ISS may just see fog too. Stupid fog.)

UPDATE: No fog! But despite a fairly thick high cloud layer it was very bright, very high in the sky.  A quick shot through my iPhone and binoculars here, and a better shot through my Lumix below.

But the NASA ISS stream was down! Oh, the irony.

There’s another pass on Thursday starting at 7:23, even higher in the sky — reaching 70º at 7:26. Should be pretty bright, but it moves far faster than you will expect.  Hopefully the NASA video stream will be up this time.

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4 Comments leave one →
  1. Kat permalink
    April 19, 2011 11:19 pm

    http://www.twisst.nl/ is also an awesome resource, that will send you a tweet when the ISS is going to pass overhead. It uses the location info you post to your twitter profile.

    • April 19, 2011 11:26 pm

      Yes! twisst.nl is awesome, forgot to mention that one.

      Also, if you want to play the ISS stream on your iPhone, search for “Streamer” — free, and the only thing I’ve found that can handle .asx.

  2. April 19, 2011 11:43 pm

    There are also some daytime passovers coming up that are increasingly higher in the sky.

    4/23, 18:36, 75º
    4/25, 17:50, 81º
    4/27, 17:04, 86º
    4/29, 16:18, 88º

    n2y0.com only goes 5 days out, but if the 5/1 pass is directly overhead that could make for some good streaming video (and if any astronauts and cosmonauts are reading, it would be a good time to take shots of SF from the cupola, no?)

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